Critical Mass

Gatherings of people based on a special interest are common, gathering to discuss, debate and learn from each other. Industries, political parties, social causes, wealth, are just a few commonalities that bring people together. While we see these groups everywhere, starting one can be very challenging. Sure, there are groups that form quickly around an emotional topic or a hot technology, but they might fade as quickly as they form. To build something that lasts takes effort, commitment, and patience.

avalanche in HimalayaI often hear the phrase “You are not a leader unless people are following you”. This is very true, and an important principle, but it needs to be tempered. Many times I have seen it drive potential leaders away from even trying. When this phrase is beaten into people they look around, see nobody following them, and decide they are not leadership material. We need more leaders in our communities, states and nations. We need to encourage people to try. Like any skill, leadership takes practice, mentoring, and usually some failures along the way.

For anyone interested in trying, be ready for a lengthy effort. It takes years to apprentice in a skill. It takes years to get a professional degree. It takes years to achieve a high level of skill in a sport. What makes us think we can just start leading? The idea is silly.

As an aside, this is what I love about the Boy Scouts program. In a properly run Boy Scout troop, the boys run the troop. They decide what activities to pursue. They decide what topics to focus on in meetings. They decide what camps to attend. This process teaches leadership. New scouts come into a troop completely lost, even if moving up from Cub Scouts. They are assigned to patrols where older boys show them the ropes. Those older boys were once the wild-eyed new scouts, and they have since become leaders. Over time the young scout becomes one of the leaders and learns skills that will stick with him throughout life.

So back to the groups idea. A good way to stick your toe in the water of leadership is to start something. Find an area where you have interest, research what others have done, find a mentor, and start a group. Getting the word out will be different depending on your situation, but one thing is very important: seek out another person to join you. Find a friend who will be there, even if nobody shows up, because it will happen.

There is a typical pattern to something like this. Initially you might have a few people come to whatever you started, sometimes it might be a lot. Over time the group dwindles to almost nothing and stays small for a period of time. After this time, a well run, and interesting group, will start to grow. Often slowly, but at this point is when you find out if you are a leader. It is not at the beginning when you might have a pile of folks show up out of curiosity.

Many people quit during that lull. I have seen it in churches, when someone gives up on a group they started. I have seen it in small business. It is not uncommon for the new entrepreneur to start a business and simply not grasp the idea that you do not make huge profits immediately. They do not understand that only the rare business launches to stardom. Most businesses take years to build to any consequence. I have also seen this in politics. How often do we see someone run for office, and then disappear when they do not win. It happens at the local, state and national level. I have seen this in sports. A young athlete is not a starter the first year on the team so they quit. It takes backbone and guts to be a leader. Leaders may know when to stop, but leaders do not quit.

Another amazing hindrance to people trying leadership is stature and beauty. It is a natural assumption that the tallest, prettiest, loudest individual is in charge. This is an absurd way to choose leaders. The problems with this approach are so numerous I will not even address them. It is obviously wrong, yet we continue to do so. This is how we end up with liars, cheats, and vane people in places of leadership. This is such an obvious part of our political system. It happens in our personal social groups as well. It takes discipline to not choose leaders this way.

I believe the way to overcome this is to encourage more people to try to lead. The problem is we have people choosing leaders who have never led. This cycles back to the problem I discussed earlier in the article. There is an aura around leadership that many do not believe they can live up to. They are correct but the aura is typically wrong. The irony is we need every adult in our society to lead the next generation forward. Ultimately, unless you are a hermit, you have to lead in some context, yet whole generations seem to lack this skill.

We desperately need more leaders in our communities. The void can be filled by the people who are in them now, and we need to encourage them. Just like the group life cycle I describe above, I am hopeful our society can press forward. I am hopeful this dearth of leadership we are experiencing is that lull before a sustained period of growth.

I have hope we can move forward, but I know what it will take to make this happen. It is not simple action and education, although those play a part. For real change to occur we need to overcome the entropy of our societal failings. To make this change will take faith, hope, and love. I know the source of those things, and He is standing by waiting for us to ask.

No comments yet.

What Do You Think?